Modern vampire fiction is rooted in the vampire hysteria of the 1720’s and 1730’s, a turbulent time in human history when superstition and religious fervor still held sway and took precedence over reason, logic and science. In reality, graves were being desecrated to exhume and destroy the corpses of suspected “vampires” blamed for plagues and death brought about by poor hygiene and other medical conditions caused by a lack of medical knowledge. The failure of ordinary people – including clerics of the time to understand natural processes of decomposition added to the hysteria about the “undead”, revenants and vampires. As time passed, folk tales and poetry began to employ the vampire as a romantic and even erotic device, rather than as just a scary tale to terrify each other with. At this time, there were a number of tales about the dead returning from the grave to visit relatives or a beloved to bring them misfortune and death in one way or another.
Initially, in the pre-modern era, it seems most literary vampires appeared in poetry and even in folk tales and sagas.
In the Viking sagas, the Draugr was an undead warrior with the desire to attack those that trespass near its burial barrow. It had the ability to convert those who survive the attack into a Draugr as well. They are compared to the modern depiction of zombies as well as vampires in popular culture, spreading their curse. We should remember that in the early times vampires were also, in the Eastern European culture at least – and later even in Europe, depicted as revenants or walking corpses, which appears to lie at the root of both vampire and zombie lore.
From wikipedia: “A draugr, draug or (Icelandic) draugur (original Old Norse plural draugar, as used here, not “draugrs”), or draugen (Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, meaning “the draug”), also known as aptrganga (“afturgöngur” in modern Icelandic) (literally “after-walker”, or “one who walks after death”) is an undead creature from Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology. The original Norse meaning of the word is ghost, and older literature makes clear distinctions between sea-draug and land-draug. Draugar were believed to live in the graves of the dead, with a draugr being the animated body of the dead. As the graves of important men often contained a good amount of wealth, the draugr jealously guards his treasures, even after death. (In Norway “vampires” is translated as “Bloodsucker-draugar”.)”
The Grettis Saga – the best-known draugr in the modern world is Glámr, who was defeated by the hero of the Grettis Saga. The saga includes a short account of him as a living man and a full account of his haunting, up to the intervention of Grettir who wrestled him back to death.
The Eyrbyggja Saga – can be translated as The Saga of the People of Eyri. A shepherd is assaulted by a draugr. The shepherd’s neck is broken during the ensuing scuffle. The shepherd rises the next night as a draugr. It was written by an anonymous writer, who describes a long standing feud between Snorri Goði and Arnkel Goði, two strong chieftains within the Norse community that settled in Iceland. The title is slightly misleading as it deals also with the clans from Þórsnes and Alptafjörðr on Iceland. The most central character is Snorri Þorgrímsson, referred to as Snorri goði and Snorri the Priest. Snorri was the nephew of the hero of Gísla saga, and is also featured prominently in Njáls saga and Laxdœla saga. Another main interest of the Eyrbyggja Saga is to trace a few key families as they settled Iceland, specifically around the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Njál’s saga – A somewhat ambivalent, alternative view of the draugr is presented by the example of Gunnar in Njál’s saga, or “The Story of Burnt Njal”) is one of the sagas of Icelanders. The most prominent characters are the friends Njáll Þorgeirsson, a lawyer and a sage, and Gunnarr Hámundarson, a formidable warrior. In the course of a feud, Gunnarr is exiled and must leave Iceland but as he rides away from his home he is struck by the beauty of the land and resolves to stay; this quickly leads to his death. Some years later, Njál is burned alive in his home as a part of a cycle of killing and vengeance. The saga dates to the late 13th century while the events described take place between 960 and 1020. The work is anonymous, although there has been extensive speculation on the author’s identity.
“The Vampire” (1748) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder – This is one of the first works of art to touch upon the subject of vampires is the short German poem. In this poem, the theme already has strong erotic overtones. In it, a man whose love is rejected by a respectable and pious maiden threatens to pay her a nightly visit, drink her blood by giving her the seductive kiss of the vampire and thus prove to her that his teaching is better than her mother’s Christianity.
“Lenore” (1773) by Gottfried August Bürger – a notable 18th century example of a narrative poem. One of its lines Denn die Toten reiten schnell (“For the dead ride fast”) was to be quoted later in Bram Stoker’s classic “Dracula”.
“The Bride of Corinth” (1797) by Goethe – a later German poem that explored a prominent vampiric element, a story about a young woman who returns from the grave to seek her lover. The story is an expression of the conflict between Heathendom and Christianity – the family of the dead girl are Christians, while the young man and his relatives are still pagans. It turns out that it was the girl’s Christian mother who broke off her engagement and forced her to become a nun, eventually driving her to death.
“Thalaba the Destroyer” (1797) by Robert Southey – This is the very first mention of vampires in English literature in what is described as a monumental
oriental epic poem, where the main character Thalaba’s deceased beloved Oneiza turns into a vampire, although that occurrence is actually marginal to the story.
“Christabel” (written between 1797 and 1801, but not published until 1816) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge – It has been argued that this poem has influenced the development of vampire fiction: the heroine Christabel is seduced by a female supernatural being called Geraldine who tricks her way into her residence and eventually tries to marry her after having assumed the appearance of an old beloved of hers. The story bears a remarkable resemblance to the overtly vampiric story of Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872).
“The Giaour” (1813) Lord Byron – In a passage in his epic poem alludes to the traditional folkloric conception of the vampire as a being damned to suck the blood and destroy the life of its nearest relations.
“The Vampyre” (1819) by John William Polidori –
“Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires” (1820) by Cyprien Bérard – An unauthorized sequel to Polidori’s tale by Cyprien Bérard was attributed to Charles Nodier.
“Der Vampyr” (1820) by Heinrich Marschner – Nodier’s play (“Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires” (1820)) was the basis of an opera by the German composer Heinrich Marschner, who set the story in a more plausible Wallachia, rather than in Scotland.
“The Skeleton Count”, or “The Vampire Mistress” (1828) by Elizabeth Caroline Grey – a milestone in vampire literature as it is believed to be the first vampire story published by a woman.
“Varney the Vampire” (1847) by – This is regarded as an important later example of 19th century vampire fiction, a penny dreadful epic featuring Sir Francis Varney as the Vampire. This story introduces the standard trope in which the vampire comes through the window at night and attacks a maiden as she lies sleeping – something which took the next several centuries to fade from popular fiction.
“Wuthering Heights” (1847) by Emily Bronte – one of the characters, Heathcliff, is suspected of being a vampire by his housekeeper, which she laughs off as “absurd nonsense.” This indicates that the vampire has already entered a new phase in literature, being introduced not as a feature or focus of fictional works, but as a secondary plot device, taken as a feature of “every day” life.
“Le Chevalier Ténèbre” (1860) by Paul Féval –
“La Vampire” (1865) by Paul Féval –
“La Ville Vampire” (1874) by Paul Féval –
“Carmilla” (1872) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu – This story set in the Duchy of Styria features a female vampire who seduces the heroine Laura while draining her blood. Such central European locations became a standard feature of vampire fiction.
“Le Capitaine Vampire” (1879) by Marie Nizet – this story features a Russian officer, Boris Liatoukine, who is a vampire.
“Dracula” (1897) by Bram Stoker – This novel has been the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction for the last century. Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease (contagious demonic possession), with its undertones of sex, blood, and death, struck a chord in a Victorian Britain where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. The vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing was a strong influence on subsequent vampire literature, while Count Dracula became an iconic figure, especially in the new medium of cinema, and it was Dracula and Stoker’s vision of the vampire – and the vampire hunter – that would leave their mark on vampire fiction for most of the next century.
“I Am Legend” (1954) by Richard Matheson – This is possibly the most influential example of modern vampire science fiction. The novel is set in a future Los Angeles overrun with undead cannibalistic/bloodsucking beings. The protagonist is the sole survivor of a pandemic of a bacterium that causes vampirism. He must fight to survive attacks from the hordes of nocturnal creatures, discover the secrets of their biology, and develop effective countermeasures. The novel was adapted into three movies: The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price in 1964, The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston in 1971, and I am Legend (film) starring Will Smith in 2007.
“Barnabas Collins” (1966-71) by Marilyn Ross – The second half of the 20th century saw the rise of vampire epic series. The first of these was Gothic romance writer Marilyn Ross’s Barnabas Collins series of adaptations loosely based on the contemporary American TV series “Dark Shadows”. It is noteworthy because it set the trend for seeing vampires as poetic and tragic figures rather than as the traditional embodiment of evil. Its influence can be seen in the later “Vampire Chronicles” series by Anne Rice.
“The Vampire Chronicles” (1976–2003) by Anne Rice – A series of vampire novels by Anne Rice, including two which were adapted for cinema, “Interview with the Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned”. These books, and even the adaptations, are seen as classics in the genre today. Rice’s work also saw the beginning of the convergence of traditional Gothic ideas with the modern Gothic subculture and a more explicit exploration of the transgressive sexualities which had always been implicit in vampire fiction.
“The Hunger” (1981) – The novel, which was adapted as a film in 1983, examined the biology of vampires, suggesting that their special abilities were the result of physical properties of their blood. The novel suggested that not all vampires were undead humans, but some were a separate species that had evolved alongside humans. This interpretation of vampires has since been used in several science-fiction stories dealing with vampires, most famously the “Blade” and “Underworld” movie series.
Since the 1970’s vampire fiction has skyrocketed to become some of the most popular and best-selling fiction on the market. The amount and variety is staggering, and virtually impossible to list. Just the more influential and seminal works have been listed here.